Smithsonian alters Gadar history
ਜਉ ਤਉ ਪ੍ੇਮ ਖੇਲਣ ਕਾ ਚਾਉ, ਸਿਰ ਧਰਿ ਤਲੀ ਗਲੀ ਮੇਰੀ ਅਾਉ
By Anju Kaur, SikhNN staff writer, Washington Bureau
Posted: Friday, May 16, 2014 | 04:14 pm
According to the secret “Ghadr Directory” published by the British Indian government in 1917, and in 1934, the Gadar Party had 616 members: 527 were Sikhs, 54 were Hindus and 35 were Muslims.
Photo Source: sikhcentury.files.wordpress.com
Reporting from Washington – One hundred years ago, when shiploads of immigrants were landing on the West Coast of the United States, thousands of Sikhs were suddenly leaving their livelihoods in America and sailing back to their homeland to launch an armed revolution against the British Raj.
They were the members of California’s Gadar Party, a movement for independence that was largely a Sikh crusade, inspired by the teachings of Guru Granth Sahib and launched from gurdwaras of the Northwest Pacific Coast.
“…This movement, in fact, was an International Anglo Sikh War…,” writes Jasbir Singh Mann, in “Reevaluating the Origin and Inspiration of the ‘Sikh Gadar' 1907-1918," presented at the 2012 Stockton Gurdwara Centennial. “It was the first declared Indian freedom war, fought by majority international Sikhs...”
But this is not the history presented by the Smithsonian Institution in its new Indian American exhibition, called: "Beyond Bollywood: Indian Americans Shape a Nation." The world-renowned institution does not give Sikhs credit for their historical contributions and sacrifices in igniting revolutionary sentiments and laying down their lives for independence.
The masthead of the Gadar newspaper includes sloak 20 on page 1,412 of Guru Granth Sahib: ਜਉ ਤਉ ਪ੍ੇਮ ਖੇਲਣ ਕਾ ਚਾਉ, ਸਿਰ ਧਰਿ ਤਲੀ ਗਲੀ ਮੇਰੀ ਅਾਉ (jau tau prem khaylan kaa chaao, sir dhar talee galee mayree aao)."
The Gadar Party was formalized in 1913 and headquartered in San Francisco. According to the secret “Ghadr Directory” published by the British Indian government in 1917, and in 1934, the Gadar Party had 616 members: 527 were Sikh, 54 were Hindu and 35 were Muslim.
“In North America, the embracing of socialistic ideology of equality and liberty by Sikh revolutionaries was already firmly grounded in the institution of the Khalsa,” Jasbir Singh writes. Their religious consciousness was their guiding force, and that also is why the movement was non-racial and non-sectarian, he says.
At the onset of World War I, in 1914, the Gadarees “left the shores of California by whatever ship they could get and arrived in India to infiltrate the (British Indian) army and incite rebellion,” Jasbir Singh writes.
About 8,000 Gadarees went back. The majority of them were Sikhs, and included only 20 to 25 Hindus or Muslims, wrote Sachindra Nath Sanyal, in his book, “Bandi Jeevan,” (Incarcerate Life). Sanyal met them in Punjab.
“If someone has to meet the Sikh Dal (Gadar) members, one has to go to gurdwaras where they are only seen,” he wrote. “Most of the members were over 60 years of age but they had courage and zeal like young men, he said. “These Sikh Dal members will start reciting Sikh scripture early morning after taking a bath.”
Sanyal later formed the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association, in 1928, for armed rebellion against the British Raj.
The Gadar plan involved 25 gurdwaras from around the world, Jasbir Singh writes. The major players were granthees and spiritual personalities. Of the 29 granthees who went back to fight for freedom, 16 were indicted by the British for seditious activities.
Most of the 8,000 Gadarees were arrested by the British Indian government. About 5,000 were let off, and about 400 received various sentences, including death.
According to the Global Organization of People of Indian Origin, of the 62 Gadarees sentenced to life imprisonment in the notorious Andaman Islands, 57 were Sikh. And, of the 48 Gadarees sentenced to death and hanged, 40 were Sikh.
In the years leading up to the exhibition, Masum Momaya, its curator and researcher, connected with several Sikhs who submitted information on Sikh American history, including Harpreet Singh of Northern California, co-founder of the American Sikh Congressional Caucus. He provided comprehensive data on the Gadar Lehar (Revolutionary Wave), he told SikhNN.
“It is not new to them,” said Jatinder Singh Hundal, an expert on Gadar history, from Sacramento. California. “There is nothing he gave them that they didn’t already know.”
But those facts did not materialize in Momaya’s version of Gadar history.
“The curatorial team, led by Dr. Masum Momaya, stands behind its research,” said Emily Grebenstein, spokeswoman for Momaya and the Smithsonian. “At this time, the Smithsonian has no intention of making changes to the exhibition’s labels and artifacts.”
The Smithsonian is presenting Gadar history with a “British-Colonial and Indian-Brahminical” bias, Jasbir Singh told SikhNN. And its information is factually incorrect, he added.
"The exhibition cost over $1 million, which included planning, research, artifact acquisition and display, design and fabrication," Grebenstein said. "The money came from both federal funds and philanthropic donations."
No Sikh was listed as a major donor.
The Gadar history presented by Momaya and the Smithsonian is the same homogeneously secularized narrative presented by the Indian government. In her keynote address, in May 2013, Ambassador Nirupama Rao said: “It was exactly 100 years ago that the Gadar Party was formed in California. And it was formed by basically Punjabi immigrants to this country, both Sikhs and Hindus, and Muslims also…” Rao spoke at the Photographic Exhibition on Sikh Heritage of India, at the Gandhi Memorial Center, in Bethesda, Maryland.
“The full story of Indian Americans is vast and requires more than a 5,000 square foot exhibition,” Grebenstein said, by email. “This exhibition is intended to be a starting point – to highlight some of the major contributions of Indian Americans and their history.”
The exhibition space includes many props. Top left: Masum Momaya speaks at the Spelling Bee section. Top right: A three-dimensional prop of an Indian-owned hotel lobby. Bottom left: An octagon-shaped prop on yoga. Bottom right: A full-size dining table with Corning Ware dinnerware."
The space for the exhibition is divided into sections with photographs, labels and paintings that are spread throughout the walls. While larger areas are devoted to sections with elaborate three-dimensional props of Indian kids in the Spelling Bee, Sikh taxi drivers, Indian “Patel” hotel history, use of Corning Ware dinnerware, modern art, bhangra and yoga, only one photograph is devoted to the entire Gadar history, which spanned about eight years, engaged nearly all of the early immigrants, resulted from their struggles for civil rights and their fight for independence, and involved the U. S., Canada, Germany, British India and other countries around the world.
“As we enjoy the American dream sitting in our palatial homes and leading a prosperous life, we must remember that we owe a debt of gratitude to these pioneers,” writes Rajen Anand, in "We Owe Them a Debt of Gratitude," for the Global Organization of People of Indian Origin’s 2013 Gadar centennial commemoration.